In a fitness world full of moving forward and backward, the concept of lateral movement often gets overlooked.
For runners, swimmers, cyclers, and cardio enthusiasts, much of the body training targets forward and backward movements only, with an unbalanced priority placed on moving forward.
When we define functional fitness, it’s important to understand that lateral movement, while not as prominent in day-to-day human existence as it may have been in the past, is still vital for keeping the body healthy and strong.
For short-twitch athletes such as football, soccer, and basketball players, a heavy focus is put on lateral, multi-planar movements that allow side steps, quick reaction times, and versatility.
Through strict cross-training regimens, lateral movements are isolated and perfected.
Regardless of whether you partake in these activities, lateral movement exercises will bring incredible benefits to any gym or home-workout routine, and provide foundational and functional strength to build a healthy body.
Benefits of Lateral Exercises
Lateral exercise could have been more prominent in a historical context. Early humans may have exhibited a greater need to use basic primal movements in more survival-based situations. In today’s world of walking to the office, sitting at a desk and taking a coffee break, there is little need for lateral movements.
By incorporating lateral movements into your gym workout of calisthenic routine, you might find the following benefits start to emerge.
When the emphasis is put only on the major muscle groups and not the supporting muscles around them, there can become an imbalance in size and structure, leading to injury.
By adding lateral exercises to your routine, you develop these smaller muscle groups and the stabilizer muscles that support joint rotation and movement.
Balance & Bounce-back
Stabilizer muscles that are important in overall balance and coordination are tricky to isolate when completing major muscle group exercises. Lateral movement promotes versatility in the routine, building these stabilizer muscles through unfamiliar movement.
A calisthenic routine complete with lateral exercise produces a speedier bounce-back for athletes that rely on it. For impact athletes and fast-twitch professionals, the body’s ability to bounce back after being knocked off of equilibrium is important to continue the forward momentum.
As we have discussed at length in previous articles, maintaining a particular dynamic in workouts helps to “shock” the body and build foundational strength. By constantly challenging the body with new movements, smaller muscle groups often overlooked don’t miss a beat.
Variety is essential to maintain both physical stability as well as mental balance. Adding new and different exercises keeps the body and mind challenged, instilling motivation, and preventing mundanity. Finally, as you will soon find out, lateral movement exercises are a lot of fun.
Best Lateral Exercises You Can Do Anywhere
If you’re ready to incorporate some new and dynamic lateral exercises into your workout routine, try these on for size. All of these exercises require no equipment and can be done with nothing more than a good pair of shoes and some space to move. Warning: some of these exercises may bring you back to your childhood.
These exercises can be added together to craft a “lateral workout”, or used individually as a warm-up or cool down to any other workout routine.
These exercises are also called star jumps, depending on where you grew up! They are easy to do and incorporate a full range of motion for all your lateral limbs.
When starting, focus on comfortable extensions of your arms and legs to the side when jumping, and build up flexibility and endurance. Remember, these are great for cardio as well, so get that heart pumping.
When you are comfortable with the exercise (one jump feet in, one jump feet out), you can up your game and try to extend and retract your arms in the same jump, building your fast-twitch muscles.
Be careful you don’t trip yourself up.
Start by sitting down on the ground with slightly bent knees and your palms down just behind your shoulders. The belly button should be comfortably facing towards the sky.
You can create as much of a “bridge” as is comfortable, but don’t worry about starting too extreme.
Once the glutes are lifted sufficiently off the ground, walk your right foot and left hand to the right, followed by the leftover limbs. The exercise gets its name from the “crab-like” movement that is produced.
Bunny hops are easy exercises in theory, but when done in repetition and with increased cadence can be quite the cardio burner.
Stand with your feet close together, and imagine an invisible line on the ground running perpendicular to your body.
Keeping both feet together, jump back and forth over this invisible line, increasing or decreasing the pace based on comfort. Think of it as an imaginary, sideways jump rope.
Like other plyometric exercises, you can modify these bunny hops by increasing the line invisible line width or alternating one foot at a time. This exercise is excellent for cardio and balance.
It’s time to embrace that inner child. As it turns out, the exercise we attempted to master in our childhood is one of the most effective lateral movements out there.
Better yet, mastering a perfect cartwheel technique does not happen immediately, providing a hearty challenge for those goal-oriented athletes.
As cartwheels are a bit hard to describe, check out a more detailed description of how to achieve the perfect cartwheel here.
Most importantly, don’t be embarrassed when performing cartwheels in public. Anyone who stops to watch and laugh are not-so-secretly jealous of the fact that you are doing cartwheels.
While this exercise may be a little challenging to master, it could very well be the most effective of all the lateral exercises listed here. Speed skaters may feel uncomfortable at first, but with a bit of practice, you will see quick improvement.
Start in a speed skating crouch, with all of your weight on your front foot, and the other leg comfortably bent at the knee and raised behind. Using your hands to propel motion, leap sideways landing on the alternate leg, and assume the same initial position but reversed.
Continue leaping back and forth from leg to leg, increasing the jump gap as you get more comfortable.
Try to keep the non-supporting leg on each exercise in the air to develop that extreme balance.